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Stunning St. Lucia

Honeymoon - St. Lucia

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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After a relaxed day in Antigua, today was going to be much busier. We had arrived in St. Lucia, and were going on a full day tour. After having breakfast we headed down to the dock.

St. Lucia was another of the Covid concerned islands, with temperature checks and wristbands to wear. We queued up for our tour, and looked at the ominous clouds above us. Next thing we were led to the side of a building just in time to take cover from the downpour about to hit us. It only lasted around 5 minutes, but being tropical it soaked anything caught in it.

We then boarded our bus and as we took a quick drive through the city's streets, got an introduction to the island from our guide. We then headed out of the city and up the mountain side, for views over the harbour.

Overlooking the harbour

Overlooking the harbour

The route south passed many hills and valleys, as well as passing by other aspects that make up the heritage and life on the island - seeing banana crops, fuel storage and alcohol distilleries.

Banana Plantations

Banana Plantations

We then arrived at Soufriere, the main area for our tour today, and which is dominated by the majestic Pitons - two twin peaks that are icons of the island, and stylised on the flag.

The Pitons

The Pitons

Our first major sight here was the Diamond Botanical Garden, a former plantation converted into a park with many beautiful ornamental plants.

Plants

Plants

There was also a walk down a gorge towards a waterfall, which being geothermal and mineral rich had stained the rock beneath.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall

After this, we headed back to the coach and travelled around the other side of town to the world's only drive in volcano.

The Volcano

The Volcano

Of course the sulphur escaping into the air meant it absolutely stank around here, but it did mean we got to see the bubbling mud pools and steam vents. Sadly we didn't get to stay here for long enough to bathe in the mud baths.

Mud Baths

Mud Baths

By now it was lunch time and we headed down the road to Morne Coubaril Estate for a Caribbean lunch where we got chatting to some of our other travelling companions.

Morne Coubaril

Morne Coubaril

It was now time to head back towards the capital, but rather than drive back the way we came, this would be via a boat trip. We boarded a catamaran at the small port at Soufriere as once more a huge black cloud came our way. Again this didn't last long, and was over by the time we set sail.

Uh Oh...

Uh Oh...

There were beautiful views of the Pitons once more, as we enjoyed Rum Punch.

The Pitons

The Pitons

We sailed to the secluded Anse Conchon Beach, where like in St. Vincent the boat's ladder was lowered and those who wanted to could get out and go for a swim or walk on the beach.

Anse Conchon Beach

Anse Conchon Beach

We decided to stay aboard as we'd done plenty of swimming until now, and after being surrounded by locals selling knickknacks, we headed north back towards Castries. En route, there was one last sight, the beautiful Marigot Bay, where lots of expensive small boats are docked.

Marigot Bay

Marigot Bay

For the last bit of the sail, the music was ramped up and there as a real carnival atmosphere with tipsy passengers and crew enjoying the music and dancing.

Party Boat

Party Boat

After arriving back at port, we went for a quick wander around the capital, seeing the cathedral and main square.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

We then headed back towards the ferry terminal where the scale of the ship's size dominating over the town was clear.

Hiding Ship

Hiding Ship

We were now coming towards the end of the cruise - with just one new island still to see, and only three more days. Once we got back to the cabin we found our flight tickets had been delivered. Then the mood turned. We had been allocated seats in separate rows - despite the fact the flight out had been 1/3 empty, and the flights contained the same people.

Chris went own to reception to ask why we had been separated, and if we could be moved. But when he came back, told me that a very rude lady on reception had stated that they probably couldn't do anything, if we had wanted to sit together we should have paid £35 each to select our seats (even though when I had looked at this option before we had left home this was not actually possible), and if they were able to find seats together we would have to pay £70 for it. We would need to go back down at 8pm to see if they had been able to do it.

I was livid. We weren't asking for a particular seat on the plane, just two seats together for a couple on their honeymoon who had paid a fortune for this cruise, and on a plane with tonnes of spare seats.

Being slightly tipsy from the Rum Punch meant I marched down to reception at full speed, where I spoke to someone else who fobbed me off saying that only the Flight Coordinator could get involved and there was nothing they could do. What a way to kill the mood of what had until just now been a really good day....

After emailing P&O to complain about this problem and the appalling customer service, we headed for dinner and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening as best we could.

When 8pm came round we headed back down to reception to find a new set of people who knew nothing about our flight tickets. Speaking to a young guy called Calvin, we told him what had happened, and I ranted about the appalling customer service, this being yet another irritation on our holiday and the fact that not one person had yet had the decency to even say "I'm sorry, let me see what I can do". To which he said "I'm sorry". Whether it was genuine I don't know, but at least he had said it...

He told us he'd see what he could do and would give us a call later to let us know. In the meantime I had received an email back from P&O to say that as we were already on board, only the Flight Coordinator could do anything. Unsurprisingly, not even a 'sorry' in sight...

Expecting not to actually hear anything, and adjusting to the reality of probably having to spend the overnight flight back home separated we got into bed to head off to sleep. Then suddenly, the phone rang. It was Calvin, telling us he'd sorted out tickets and to come down to reception.

We got dressed and headed straight down, where he told us he'd sorted it and put us in seats together. He gave us the new tickets and we didn't need to pay. At least there was one nice person on board - but the question is, if this was so simple, why had it been such aggro to sort, why had we had to kick up such a fuss, and why had this not been done initially!?

By now it had been a very long day, and with another early tour tomorrow morning, we headed to bed.

Posted by kmmk17 17:25 Archived in Saint Lucia Tagged mountains rain boat beach volcano cathedral waterfall caribbean geology botanicalgarden Comments (1)

A Mooch in Antigua

Honeymoon - Antigua

sunny 28 °C
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As the Caribbean can be quite samey, we had made a conscious effort to explore different things in each place. However with a run of busy days and with none of the possible excursions really tickling our fancy, we decided to have a more chilled day today.

After having got up in our own time and had breakfast ("Two Apple juices?" said the waiter who by now knows what I want each day), we made our way down to the port to have an exploration.

P&O were quite good at having hand sanitizer stations everywhere, however their ID card printers are such poor quality that the hand sanitizer wipes away all the ink and leaves them unreadable. Instead of investing in good quality machines, or giving everyone plastic lanyards to keep their cards in (they charge £5 for these in the shop), the solution is to get the passengers to request a new card.

Having already had to ask for a new ID card just a few days into the cruise (as the one I was given initially was already half wiped off before I even picked it up), by now, day 10 on board, my card was getting pretty bad again. Still possible to read, but not ideal.

Getting down to the disembarkation area the lady looks at my card and says "you need a new card". Yes, I know - because your printers are awful, I think to myself. Then she just carries on looking at me. "What... now?" I ask. "Yes, now" she snaps back at me. Despite the fact the card is still readable, I now need to traipse all the way back up 3 decks to the reception and then wait around whilst yet another new card is printed. Thank God we didn't have an excursion booked or we would have missed it.

It was not impossible to speak to customers nicely, but clearly they've just employed anyone they can find even if they are rude to the passengers. Eventually after now having my third card in the space of a week I could traipse all the way back down and finally get off the ship.

Whilst most of the ports had not required any kind of Covid checks, Antigua was a bit tighter, and required us to do temperature checks on the jetty before we made it into the cruise terminal. Nevertheless, we had so far managed to dodge Covid and even the hot temperatures still gave us a normal reading, so we were allowed into St. John's.

Cruise Terminal

Cruise Terminal

The terminal was full of the usual shops and cafés, and we had a little look around before then heading out into St. John's proper and to the eponymously named cathedral that overlooks the town.

St. John's Cathedral

St. John's Cathedral

From the outside it looked a bit of a state - but inside it was completely unexpected - being completely panelled in wood.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Although it was undergoing some renovation, it was still lovely to see. We then headed south through the back streets of the town to the VC Bird Monument - dedicated to the first Antiguan President, but bizarrely painted like no monument should be.

VC Bird Monument

VC Bird Monument

Ironically, Antigua sells itself as the island of 365 beaches, and yet not one of them is a walkable distance from the port, and so after just under an hour or so, we were already back at the port. We had another wander around the terminal before re-boarding the ship.

We spent the afternoon once again lazing around the pool, before enjoying a sail away through Deepwater Harbour and past Fort James.

Fort James

Fort James

At tonight's dinner we once again picked up lots of the small plates of different foods and had our fill, before having a chilled evening watching some of the on demand entertainment.

Dinner

Dinner

Although when we had travelled northwards there had been a sea day between the Windwards and the Leeward Islands, on the return journey southwards we would have continuous port days. We therefore travelled on a relatively direct route, and this meant before bedtime we were passing very close to the island of Montserrat.

Montserrat

Montserrat

As we didn't have a balcony, I went out on deck to take a look - being able to see a silhouette of the volcanic island as we passed. After taking in the views, I then went for a quick wander around parts of the ship I'd not yet seen, before finally heading back to the cabin for the night.

Pool by Night

Pool by Night

Posted by kmmk17 17:18 Archived in Antigua and Barbuda Tagged food city island cathedral caribbean Comments (0)

Colonial St. Kitts

Honeymoon - St. Kitts

sunny 28 °C
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After a sea day, this morning we awoke to find we had arrived in St. Kitts. Together with Nevis, this is the most recent British Caribbean island to have gained independence - just 39 years ago. It is also the smallest independent country in the western hemisphere, with only three Pacific island nations, and three European microstates beating it from the eastern hemisphere.

After breakfast we headed out for our Excursion for the day - a quick tour of the capital, followed by a trip to a former plantation and then to a fortress. The port here was a relatively large passenger friendly port - completely different from the last two.

Port Zante

Port Zante

Bizarrely, when on a cruise you don't get your passports looked at, and sometimes don't even need to take them with you. It makes it easy to get on and off the ship, as your room card identifies you, but it does mean that it's difficult to get a passport stamp. Here, we managed to get ourselves one, as there was an immigration office inside the main gateway (although it had appeared to be empty when we first walked in! Two officials sitting in an isolated room two doors in!).

We then went and queued up for our excursion. There were loads of excursions today and they were all queued up next to each other - it was like lining up at school! Then we were led over to a minibus where the tour guide ran over the essentials and advised the driver would be there soon. Then he walked over to the driver's seat got in, and announced he was in fact also the driver!

We began by heading out of the terminal, and driving into Basseterre. We drove past the old port gate entrance, followed by the clock tower, before arriving at Independence Square.

Independence Square

Independence Square

This square was renamed in September 1983, but was previously know as Pall Mall Square, and was the location of the original Slave Market, where enslaved Africans were bought and sold.

Being home to just 14,000 people, Basseterre wasn't very big, and after driving past the cathedral we were already heading out of the town. We drove west along the south side of the island, passing several of the international universities, and through lots of villages before we arrived at Wingfield Estate, seeing the ruins of a sugar plantation.

Former Railway line serving the Estate

Former Railway line serving the Estate

Behind this, is Romney Manor, the manor house that the owners, including one of the ancestors of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson lived in.

Romney Manor

Romney Manor

The manor has now been transformed into botanical gardens, and a batik (wax dying) factory, where locals showed us the art.

Batik

Batik

After a bit of time spent here, we then continued further west and headed to Brimstone Hill, one of the Caribbean's best preserved fortresses. As the island is volcanic and has steep sides in this area, the fort sits at around 300m above sea level and therefore has beautiful views over the nearby areas, including the Dutch islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba - which ironically is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, despite being 4200 miles from the mainland.

Brimstone Hill

Brimstone Hill

After a long and windy route up the mountain side we arrived at the fort to find it in exceptional condition. Inside the fort, the museum detailed the history of the fort, showing how throughout the 1900s the fort was restored, and was reopened by Prince Charles in 1973, before being made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress

The museum also had information about the Slave Trade and the Imperial Age, discussing how St. Kitts was at one time divided between the British (in the centre) and the French (on the east and west sides).

After wandering around the area and enjoying the stunning views, we boarded the bus and headed back to the Port. Whilst the weather until now had been glorious and sunny, en route we got caught in a huge rainstorm. But as was usual in this part of the world, it lasted just a few minutes before the weather brightened up again.

When we got back to the port we then bought ourselves a postcard, before heading back into the town. We wanted to get some better pictures of the sights, and so headed over to Independence Square, and went inside the cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Before heading into the port, we stopped at the supermarket to get some drinks, and then headed back to the ship. As this was a large passenger friendly port, the authority had also laid on some local dancing for us to enjoy.

Local Dancers

Local Dancers

Getting back from the excursion we arrived in the cabin to find a useful guide to all the Covid protocols in each port - just a shame we'd already been to three of them...

After spending the afternoon around the pool enjoying cocktails and snacks, we went to some entertainment this evening. The on board brochure had advertised "The Pursuit", a gameshow which was essentially ITV's The Chase. One of the entertainment team would play "The Pursuer", whilst three audience members would compete to win a P&O goody bag.

"The Pursuit"

"The Pursuit"

One of the selected competitors was a rather skanky looking lady from Gloucester. Although when they asked her to repeat where she was from as they couldn't quite catch what she'd said through her face mask she shouted out "Fred West". Not sure the serial killer who buried several women and his own daughter in his back yard is what I'd have said to remind people of the cathedral city on England's longest river but well... looking at the state of her maybe she knew him?

They asked her what she did for a job. "Retired" she said. To looks of bemusement - how could she be retired when she's clearly no older than her late 40s? Then she announced that she'd won the lottery! Well, I guess that explains why she was there with a bunch of kids - some of them were probably her own, and others we assumed must be their partners?

In the end the contestants won the game. After a bit of fun watching this, we headed back to the cabin for the night as tomorrow we'd have yet another island to explore!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 15:21 Archived in St Kitts/Nevis Tagged islands fort cathedral port caribbean games colony botanicalgarden Comments (0)

The Fens

Fens

semi-overcast 22 °C
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It had been a long time since we had had a relaxing getaway, and so we booked ourselves a lodge with a hot tub in Norfolk, and went up with my brother and sister.

We travelled up after work on Friday, getting dinner en route, before dropping our bits off at the lodge, located in the Fens in Norfolk. The Fens were historically marshy underwater land that was drained in the 1600s. Very much like the Netherlands they are incredibly flat, and contain lots of straight roads and drains, and arable crops.

After popping to the supermarket in Downham Market, we headed back to the lodge and made our first use of the hot tub, enjoying drinks and music in the soothing tub.

The following day we made use of being in this part of the world, by visiting the city of Ely. Ely was historically an island within the Fens, and although home to just 20,000 people is only of the most important places in the area.

After eventually finding a space to park we headed into the centre, walking down the High Street, before turning into the churchyard. Here the huge Ely Cathedral came into view. The cathedral has an iconic Octagonal tower, and dominates the skyline of the whole city.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

Admission was £8, and so for the four of us this would have been £32 - but as the pay point was just inside the church we went inside took a quick look across the barrier, went inside the gift shop and then left.

We then headed across the Green, past the canon captured from the Crimean War, before arriving outside the family home of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of England during the Republic after the civil war. Inside, the building also functions as the Tourist Information Centre, where we bought some souvenirs, before heading along the circular walk around town.

Oliver Cromwell's House

Oliver Cromwell's House

This walk heads to the south of the cathedral through gardens dedicated to the Queen's Golden Jubilee, before arriving along the banks of the River Great Ouse.

After making it back round to the car, we headed to the lodge, where after a bit of lunch we spent the rest of the day in and out of the hot tub, mixing it up with games and chats.

Hot Tub Fun

Hot Tub Fun

The following day was our last. We had a pretty lazy day, in and out of the hot tub, and only leaving it to go for a wander around the edge of the campsite. At late afternoon we then packed up our stuff and headed back home, once again getting dinner en route.

It was a lovely weekend, just being able to relax in a nice environment and have fun and games with my siblings.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:22 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged history city cathedral family lodge Comments (0)

A Day In The Cotswolds

Cotswolds

sunny 21 °C
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After the last 18 months of not getting to go very far, we managed to have a day out to the Cotswolds on one of the few nice summer's days of 2021.

With a lot of leave still to use, we'd taken the week off and spent much of it decorating the living room. But to give us a bit of a break from all the work on a 'week off', we decided to have a day out and picked the best one weather-wise in what had been a pretty miserable summer.

The first place we headed to was Bourton-on-the-Water, which involved driving across country. As we were almost there, the road we needed to take to cross over to Stow-on-the-Wold was closed, with the nearest diversion adding another 30mins to our journey. Feeling that this might be a bit excessive, we decided to try our luck and see how far down the road we could get before cutting around the road closure on country roads.

As we almost entered Stow-on-the-Wold, we cut off and diverted via a suburb to the south. However these tiny narrow lanes were not suitable for the huge cars ignorant people love to drive. Arriving at one bend where there were loads of parked cars, the developing trail of cars I was caught up in met another travelling the opposite way. A trail of three cars had already headed down what had become a de facto single lane highway which our larger trail was already on. As we had right of way, and also nowhere to go, the cars headed towards us had to reverse to allow us to pass. Some of them did so amicably, but one driver decided he would only reverse as far as possible for all our cars to mount the verge and squeeze past - despite him being able to reverse back slightly more and let us drive on the actual carriageway.

My blood was now boiling. How dare this ignorant man just sit there so obnoxiously expecting us to do something so unnecessary. So I sat there waiting for him to reverse further, but he would not. So, as I was forced to mount the verge passing him, I stopped adjacent to his window, wound mine down and absolutely lost it at him - shouting, screaming and swearing right in his face. He probably didn't care but it made me feel better anyway.

As we left the town we could see the huge traffic queue that had formed due to the closure of the important road. Thankfully we were missing it via our reroute, and around 10 minutes later we were in the middle of an extremely busy Bouton-on-the-Water. Despite being a weekday, probably due to the nice weather and the school holidays, it was full of people and we were lucky to get parked.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water

After a little walk we ended up on the main High Street of this beautiful village, where a small river runs just to the south creating an area of parkland where many families were picnicking. Crossing several of the bridges we started at the west end by the Motoring Museum, before heading into gift shops and ending outside the Model Village. It is quite simply the idealised English village.

But being a Cotswold village, there wasn't much to do, and so after picking up some souvenirs we then headed back to the car park and made our way to the nearby city of Gloucester.

Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral

Around half an hour later, and just outside the Cotswolds we arrived and parked in the shopping centre car park. We then went for a wander over to Gloucester Cathedral. This huge cathedral contains the tomb of Edward II, and also served as a filming location for the Harry Potter films.

Cloisters

Cloisters

There, they did the typical thing of providing 'free' entry, whilst in reality trying to force us to give them a donation. So we pretended to leave and then when no one was looking legged it across the vestry - we only wanted a quick look!

Edward II's Tomb

Edward II's Tomb

We went for a little wander into the cloisters and courtyard, before heading back to the exit via the tombs. We then headed back towards the centre, stopping for lunch, before making our way towards the Docks, located on the edge of the River Severn.

On driving into the town it dawned on me that this was also the city where Fred and Rose West had lived and murdered, and their house, where 9 bodies were found in 1994 was just a short walk away. So we decided to walk back via the site, which has since been knocked down and turned into a footpath.

We were now headed back towards home, but we also had another Cotswold village we wanted to stop by at - Bibury.

Bibury

Bibury

Much smaller than Bourton-on-the-Water, it was very scenic. However even at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, we were lucky to get a space. After driving past the best parking spaces, we could see a learner driver was just getting into the car. After turning around, a stroke of luck, he was trying to pull out. So I let him go and then nabbed his spot.

We then went for a short walk around the village, before making our way back to the car, and a final drive home.

Bibury

Bibury

It may have only been one day, but it was a nice break from the normality of home, and it was very scenic. Would recommend.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 19:20 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged hills river scenery city cathedral quaint Comments (0)

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